A brief encounter turns into a long-running saga of fathers' rights

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The Independent Online

The excellent men's rights pressure group Fathers Direct held its annual conference on Tuesday, offering an intelligent and pragmatic agenda that celebrates the wider, deeper, richer role that has been carved out for fathers in recent decades. This group could be no more different from the odious Fathers for Justice mob, whose victim mentality and attention-seeking stunts reek of immaturity and lack of personal responsibility. Nevertheless, there was an amount of the same sort of bitter and negative complaint at this event as well, with some disgruntled fathers unable to see a broader picture simply because of their own bad experience.

The excellent men's rights pressure group Fathers Direct held its annual conference on Tuesday, offering an intelligent and pragmatic agenda that celebrates the wider, deeper, richer role that has been carved out for fathers in recent decades. This group could be no more different from the odious Fathers for Justice mob, whose victim mentality and attention-seeking stunts reek of immaturity and lack of personal responsibility. Nevertheless, there was an amount of the same sort of bitter and negative complaint at this event as well, with some disgruntled fathers unable to see a broader picture simply because of their own bad experience.

It is not possible to overstate the misery and cruelty that have been inflicted on loving fathers by women who have sometimes deliberately, sometimes maliciously, sometimes derangedly, and sometimes unthinkingly in a dark outward manifestation of their own anger, used their children to settle emotional scores against former partners.

But it is possible, listening to the umpteenth tale of woe about years spent in court, to begin wondering why on earth they think any law court could ever be able to save them and their children from the consequences of their own poor choices, failed relationships and emotional battle zones.

The fact is the while the legal system can certainly be reformed, and the social and political structure can certainly be recalibrated, little can save children from being caught in the middle when their parents hate each other. Instead of blaming others for not sorting out impossible problems, the men who see themselves as radicalised by their poor treatment would be better off exploring their own part in their downfall.

The same stories, of sperm-hunting women who said they were on the pill, of blameless dads whose partners were duplicitous harridans, of wrongful accusation of emotional abuse (which half the time are true) come up again and again. What never comes up, though, is the realisation that starting a family is an important step, and that problems often come when a couple who barely know each other start one entirely casually.

The men, women and children for whom things go so horribly wrong would be better off warning others of the risks they take when they have children with people they know hardly at all, and reflecting on the idea that prevention is always going to be better than the kind of limited cure even the most scrupulous court can offer.

Women who maliciously refuse to allow their children to see their fathers are committing an appalling act, and it is a terrible failure that so many are not challenged more robustly when they behave in this way. But men really ought to start thinking of ways of developing a male understanding of emotional intelligence as well. They should be looking at ways of getting it across to the next generation that it's worth taking every precaution against becoming a parent with such a person in the first place. Dressing up as Batman is quite a long distance away from this. But it's undoubtedly much easier.

Repent at leisure

Oh dear. The faint aroma of performing seals that has hung around the relationship between Charles and Camilla since they first started seeking "respectability" has now, on their wedding day, risen to a stench.

On the one hand, I find it moving that they are willing to succumb to the humiliation of repenting their "manifold sins and wickedness" before an audience of 500 million people. On the other, I find it repulsive that they are so desperate to be "accepted" that they are willing to be subjected to such aludicrous farce.

After all, it's not as if they really can mean what they are slated to say. If Charles and Camilla really do, as the prayer states, find the memory of their "misdoings" "grievous unto us", don't they find that just looking at each other brings up feelings of guilt and disgust? The fact that they are still together suggests that for them all the hurt they have caused has been, if not worthwhile, then at least necessary.

Poor them. As usual they have haplessly copped the worst of all worlds, opting to make a public declaration that is a contradiction in terms, in order to appease a public that is already more than aware that it, not its great ruler-in-waiting, has the whip hand. Why on earth they aren't the nation's leading republicans is an ever-deepening mystery.

It takes a Muslim wedding to celebrate the pleasures of female solidarity

I'm not in the least moved by arguments which suggest that Islam cherishes and protects women, simply because the reality of women's subjugation in many Muslim societies gives the lie to such thinking. So it was with a little trepidation that I attended at the weekend a Muslim arranged-marriage celebration.

Even though we expected this to be a fairly liberal event, my family was amazed to find on entry that the party was divided into two sections, with a room set aside for women and children only, and another for men, children and the more brazen women who wished to cock a snook at tradition and hang out with them.

My stepdaughter and I entered into the spirit of things, and ditched the blokes. Our room, we were happy to discover, was full of warmth and vibrancy, with everyone dashing about exuberantly in dazzling outfits. Women who would normally be sitting with partners were making friends with each other instead, and up on a decorated stage, the beautiful bride (from Sweden) posed for photographs with any guests who wanted a picture.

A visit to the men's room, though, revealed quite a different atmosphere. Their pad was drab and dull, with a quiet and undifferentiated murmur hanging above the assembled masses of blue-grey-brown-clad figures. Mingling was allowed when the wedding feast was over, and it's not hard to guess the direction in which all the traffic was headed.

What point am I making here? None really, except that nothing is quite what it seems. Segregated social celebrations turn out to be rather good fun, once in a while. This one felt like a massive, good-natured hen night, only it was a grand and integral part of the wedding plan, suggesting that the company and solidarity of women are just as important after marriage as before, rather than a dodgy, vulgarly stereotyped, bolt-on event, suggesting wrongly that after marriage the days of turning to female friends and family for support are in the past.

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